Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hooks?

Hooks are maybe one of the most frustrating elements of writing. We need to hook on the first page, first paragraph, etc. We have to hook in our query. There seems to be endless requests for strong hooks. Which brings me to my post/question for today -- what hooks you?

I've read through the first few pages of my favorite books lately just analyzing the hooks. Want to know what they all have in common? They present a question. Not a true question with a question mark, but a question in the reader's mind and that question has to be answered. So, as a reader, I read on in hopes of getting my answer. I also think one similarity is that the initial question presented is always answered by the end of that first chapter. And many times the first chapter presents one or more questions that push the story forward.

Let's take Hunger Games as an example. The last line of the first paragraph reads: This is the day of the reaping.
Immediately we want to know what's a reaping? Why does it scare Prim? By the end of Chapter 1 we know and find that Prim has been chosen. What does that mean? What will happen to her? There are lots of questions presented by the end of Ch. 1.

More examples:

Savvy -- When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.
This is the first sentence!! The very first line of that book presents a question. How in the word could her brother cause a hurricane? By the end of Ch. 1 we know and now want to know what Mibs' savvy will be.

A Great and Terrible Beauty -- I am staring into the hissing face of a cobra.
This is the second line of the book. What? Why is she staring into a cobra's face? By the end of Ch. 1 we know and also know that Gemma hates it in India.

Grab your favorite books. What questions are presented in the opening paragraph/pages. Is that what pulled you into the story?

I just cut the first 2 pages of my first chapter after learning this lesson about hooks.

Previous first line:

I stepped up to bat as the sky burst open, blinding me to the incoming pitch.

No questions presented at all.

New first line:

"You don’t have to go in,” Mom said for tenth time since I arrived.

Now, this is rough and I may reword Mom's tag a bit, but with this one line I've presented two questions. Go in where? Arrived where? My hope is that this hooks the reader to want to know where they are and why my MC doesn't want to go inside, especially considering the next line involves my MC thinking to himself that he doesn't want to go in.

Check your first paragraph/page. Are you presenting questions? Are you hooking the reader?

M.B.

6 comments:

  1. OMG, fabulous timing! I just finished my first 'hook' assignment for CJs course. Holy cow, painful! But so useful. Now, you've clarified the importance even more, after all, the query should translate to the book itself. Thanks for the examples! Love that change in your first chapter, btw ;-)

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  2. Oh I remember that part of the class! Glad you like the change. I'll probably send you the revised ch. 1 for the ten millionth time sometime this weekend! :) Haha!

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  3. This is so true. It can be really hard to get that first line right. I usually end up trashing my first line at least a few times. It's tricky!

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  4. Great post--you nailed why hooks are so important. Good hooks also mean that you can avoid an info dump in the opening and keep the pace up, because they pull the reader along by not giving everything away. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  5. Andrea -- Yes, my poor Ch.1 has been sliced to pieces several times. :)

    Angela -- Thanks for stopping over. I totally agree with you regarding info dump. I cannot stand the info dump opener and end up flipping.

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  6. Ugh, hooks are hard. I'm in the midst of revising my middle so I'm sure that I will come back to my beginning and try to "re-hook it". Ha.

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